MILITARY MATTERS: Former army drill sergeant now leading a diverse church

Updated: Apr. 9, 2021 at 12:53 AM EDT
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COLUMBUS, Ga. (WTVM) - A Columbus pastor uses experiences from his two decades in the army in his ministry today.

Preaching in church is a different battlefield for Pastor Derrick Shields. Before taking over as lead pastor of Christ Community Church in Columbus, he served 20 years in the army, wearing a variety of hats.

“I used to jump out of planes, perfectly good planes, jump out of them for a living when I was an Airborne instructor,” Shields said.

And to the surprise of some in his congregation, Shields also was a drill sergeant.

Shields thought he needed to yell and be mean, over the top with the basic trainees, which he discovered is a misconception.

“A 1st sergeant of mine, we were feeding the soldiers and I was all in one soldier’s face. He let me do what I was doing, then called me over to the side and said these words to me that literally changed my leadership style. He said you don’t have to talk to them that way to get them to do what you want them to do,” Shields said.

He added, “Seminary can only teach you so much in a short period of time. Twenty years in the military, doing this on a regular basis, you start developing instinct and a way of life.”

He remembers those days as a non-commissioned officer, saying over his two decades in the army, they instilled discipline in him and communication skills he still uses in his life and job at a multi-racial church. Shields also calls the military one of the most diverse organizations you’ll find.

“I was from Mississippi, segregated town. We had black life, white life, very rarely did the two go together. But I go into the military and it’s a tapestry of all cultures and it still stays with me today, which is why my passion for the church to be diverse is so great,” Shields said.

And he recently wrote an editorial featured in the national “Guideposts” magazine about diversity and the phrase “Black Lives Matter.”

“Those words [Black Lives Matter] do polarize people. If they think of it in the context of what they know it to be, then they’re not hearing what the other person maybe thinking or resisting. It is an opportunity for people to come together and have a conversation,” Shields said.

“The things that we did as soldiers prepared me to do what I’m doing today,” he added said.

He weaves army and faith stories into sermons, and also during an extended chat on our “Run The Race” podcast. You can hear it all by going to

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